Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Entertainment is a fictional story but it has more than a few strands of reality in its DNA. In the film Gregg Turkington plays a semi-fictional version of himself - an "alternative" persona/stand-up comedian (or "anti-comedian") who delivers strange one-liners to unsuspecting audiences. Through the course of the film we watch Turkington's "Neil" travel across the American west coast doing the "chitlin' circuit" of small bars and comedy clubs while trying to maintain his sanity. While on tour he reconnects with his cousin "John" (John C. Reilly) and tries to reach out to his daughter that we never actually see (throughout the film he leaves her cryptic voice messages).
When Neil isn't on stage telling jokes, he's a quiet and almost unlikeable person. I wouldn't disagree if some folks referred to him as an alternative anti-hero, but to me Neil is the epitome of the "sad clown" (it's no coincidence that Neil travels with an actual clown - played by Tye Sheridan - as his opening act). This archetype isn't anything new but the team of Rick Alverson, Gregg Turkington & co-writer Tim Heidecker put a refreshing spin on the idea of the sad clown. Comedians are sometimes sad, insecure & depressed. Entertainment just hammers this home in its own unique way. Behind every joke that Turkington/Neil delivers is a layer of sadness and/or extreme negativity. Anytime Neil isn't performing on stage/in character he refuses to be funny or tell jokes which plays off of the idea of entertainment as a job. Being a stand-up isn't "fun" for Neil. It's his 9 to 5. He isn't "on" 24/7 and doesn't feel the need to be the "funny guy" all the time just because he's a comedian (I often hear stories of stand-ups hating to be asked to tell jokes or to "be funny" when they're on their own personal time). Actually, Entertainment puts the occupation of a stand-up comedian/entertainer on the same level as an office worker or retail associate. I'm not trying to belittle the job of an office worker or retail worker (I work in an office myself), but there's a common misconception that all comedians live super fun lives when in fact their job becomes just as redundant and at times pointless as sitting in an office cubicle.
Any independent and/or struggling artist should be able to appreciate this aspect of film (for me, Entertainment made up for the disappointment that was Inside Llewyn Davis).

Depression, hopelessness, sadness, loneliness and the (sometimes) pointlessness of communication are some of the main keywords & themes that come to mind when I think of Entertainment (as someone who has grown to hate small talk, I appreciate how well Alverson deconstructed the idea of people saying shit just for the sake of saying shit to kill time or make up for silence). Alverson's use of small talk & repetition (courtesy of John C. Reilly's "John") is pretty masterful and it really highlights the stunted level of communication that humans sometimes have.
This is a dramedy in the truest sense (Not a dark comedy. There's a difference between the two). Entertainment is very disorienting (I mean that in the most positive way) as it transitions seamlessly between comedic moments and depressing moments. One minute Neil is on stage delivering his stand-up material, and the next minute he's sitting on the edge of his bed in a shitty motel room in the middle of nowhere questioning his existence (and the score just adds an extra layer to the film's disorienting nature).

Visually, this is Alverson's most polarizing film to date. Not to downplay his previous work, because I've enjoyed them all (I consider The Comedy to be one of the five best films of the decade), but this is the first Rick Alverson film, in my opinion, to feature memorable standalone imagery. Not only does he make use of the southwest American landscape that serves as the backdrop for the film, but he sprinkles in the perfect amount neon lighting and other bold colors (there were shades of that in The Comedy but Alverson went all out in Entertainment). For a visual reference, imagine a film that falls somewhere in between Upstream Color, the cinematography of Tim Orr and a Harmony Korine-directed Cat Power music video (Upstream Color costar Amy Seimetz makes a brief appearance in Entertainment). And I know this is cliché but Stanley Kubrick seemed to have a subconscious influence on all the polarizing hallway shots in Entertainment (often times in entertainment we get these scenes of an almost paralyzed Turkington standing in a hallway zoning out like Jack Nicholson in The Shining).
Besides Alverson's own films (specifically The Comedy), I'd put Entertainment in the same cinematic vein as other road movies like Kings Of The Road (another road movie that deals with depression) & Vanishing Point. In fact Rick Alverson referred to Entertainment as "Two Lane Blacktop with Neil Hamburger".

I could go on & on about how challenging & unique Entertainment is (and it certainly is) but this film touched me on a personal level which is more important than any critical praise I could ever give. I'd be lying if I said I haven't been questioning certain of aspects of my own life (work, the environment I live in, my health, etc) much like Neil. I guess you could say I'm going through a super light existential period in my own life, so seeing a movie like Entertainment, which centers around someone going through their own (deeper) existential crisis, is going to have an impact on me.

Entertainment also features the type of humor I appreciate with jokes like:

Why did Madonna feed her baby Alpo brand dog food? ...Because she had no choice. It's the only thing that came out of her breasts.


What was Elvis Presley's worst release?

...The ejaculate that produced Lisa Marie Presley.

While jokes like that may come off as stupid to some of you, I find shit like that hilarious.

I don't always like to compare movies like Entertainment to their predecessors but if you're a fan of The Comedy (and other recent "challenging"/deconstructive films like Upstream Color or the cinema of Yorgos Lanthimos) I can almost guarantee that you'll enjoy Entertainment.


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